Vigée Le Brun exhibit to bring faces of French aristocracy to Ottawa

June-Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun was one of the most important painters of her time, but had been largely forgotten. A newly-mounted exhibit coming to the National Gallery aims to bring the work of 'magnificent colourist' to the forefront.

'She's probably the most important woman artist France ever produced,' says curator

Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755–1842) Woman Artist in Revolutionary France opens on Feb. 15 in New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art. (CBC)

She was the favourite painter of Marie-Antoinette, and other members of the French royal court, capturing the last vestiges of a gilded age before the revolution.

A painter like Renoir would not have known of her, but he would have loved her,- curator Joseph Baillio.

Once the most celebrated woman artist in Europe in her time, Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun's reputation gradually faded from the history of art.

A major traveling retrospective is hoping to change that. 

A self-portrait by Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755–1842). ( Galleria degli Uffizi, Corridoio Vasariano, Florence (1905))

Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755–1842) Woman Artist in Revolutionary France was originally mounted in the Grande Palais in Paris — now it is set to open at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, on Monday, Feb. 15.

Exhibit traveling to Ottawa in June

Following that, it will move to the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa in June. Many of the paintings have never left France before.

"She got short shrift in the great histories of 18th century painting," said Joseph Baillio, curator of the exhibition, "Great women artists were not recognized for what they were."

Baillio was speaking at the media preview for the exhibition in New York.

"She is probably the most important woman artist that France ever produced. She's not a well known painter because most of her pictures were in private collections. She was only rediscovered at the beginning of the 20th century," said Baillio.

"A painter like Renoir would not have known of her, but he would have loved her," he said.

Detail of French noble woman by Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun. A major retrospective of her work is coming to Ottawa this summer. (CBC)

'An extraordinary technician... a magnificent colourist'

Vigée Le Brun painted more than 600 portraits, lush, warmly coloured, intimate reflections of European aristocracy.

She fled France for Italy during the French Revolution, where she continued to capture the faces of nobility.

Baillio says Ottawa art lovers are in for a treat.

Detail from a portrait by Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun. The artist painted many members of the French Royal Court in the years before the revolution. (CBC)

"This show is going to show her at her finest. You get some really splendid examples and when they are in perfect condition you can see what an extraordinary technician she was....

"[She was] also the greatest colourist with [French painter Jean-Honoré] Fragonard at the end of the 18th century. She was a magnificent colourist."

The retrospective of Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755–1842) runs at the National Gallery of Canada from June 10, 2016 to Sept. 11, 2016.